Characteristics and Behavior:
Florida manatees are large, gray aquatic mammals with rounded bodies and paddle-shaped flippers. Adults can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh up to 1,200 pounds. They have wrinkled, whiskered faces with small eyes and no external ears. They are slow-moving herbivores that feed on a variety of aquatic plants, typically seagrasses found in estuaries. They frequently surface to breathe but can stay underwater for up to 20 minutes. Manatees are social animals and often travel in small groups or pairs during the summer months but congregate en mass in natural springs during the winter to avoid cold exposure in the ocean.
Range and Habitat Preferences:
- Found primarily in warm coastal waters, estuaries, and rivers in the southeastern United States, including Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.
- They are also found in the Caribbean and along the northern coast of South America.
- Manatees prefer shallow, slow-moving waters with abundant vegetation.
- During the winter they seek out natural springs to escape the cold temperatures of the ocean.
- Female manatees reach sexual maturity at around 5 years old and give birth to a single calf after a gestation period of 12 months.
- Calves stay with their mothers for up to 2 years before becoming independent.
- Manatees have a lifespan of around 60 years.
- Manatees are known as "sea cows" because of their gentle, slow-moving nature and their herbivorous diet.
- Manatees are related to elephants, and their closest living relatives are hyraxes, small furry mammals found in Africa and the Middle East.
- Highly sensitive body hairs, called vibrissae, help manatees detect small changes in the water, giving them a sixth sense to navigate the environment.